Ditching The Hype and Focusing on The Community

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This is where I live. This is the community I serve.

Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.

I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.

The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:

  1. The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
  2.  The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
  3. I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.

I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will.  Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.

The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.

Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.

How do we change the conversation? 

  • We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
  • Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
  • Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.

Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.

Library To-Do List: 2017

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EXPAND OUR LOCAL HISTORY/GENEALOGY OFFERINGS
Titusville, PA has a wonderful and rich history (for a glimpse of it, just read this). As our local public library, I believe that we should be doing as much as possible to make that history accessible to our everyone in the community. To date, we’ve done a few things to increase awareness of our great history. Jess Hilburn started up a blog to share some great local stories she digs up in the Titusville Herald Archives. We’ve got the Titusville Herald archive online for in library use. But in my opinion we’ve got to do more, and slowly but surely we are getting there.

A partnership between the library, the Titusville Historical Society, Drake Well Museum and Park, and the Titusville Alumni Association came about in 2016 and resulted in the beginnings of the Titusville PA Heritage Connection, a website/digital portal that aims to bring all of our organizations together in one online space to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. While the site isn’t anywhere near complete, the fact that we have it up and the framework is there is a step in the right direction. A big thank you to our Clarion University of PA intern Kerry Neely for her help in getting this set up!

UPGRADE OUR INTERNET CONNECTION
Living and working in Chattanooga, TN was pretty great and one of the big reasons for that was their gig fiber internet connection. Speeds were fast, reliable, and the excitement of having something so state of the art created such a positive buzz in the community which led to some great things being tried out to make Chattanooga TN a better place for all.

Since moving to Titusville, PA, I’ve been wishing we’ve had that kind of thing to spur some excitement. Our internet options here in town are lacking, and the ones we can connect to have average to terrible service. HOWEVER, I hope to change that in 2017. To my excitement, I discovered that the town does have fiber internet lines in a few places. After some conversations with people around the community and others in the state, I found out that THERE’S FIBER LINES SURROUNDING THE ENTIRE BENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY. Here’s a beautiful image of that fiber line coming right down in front of the library and turning right down our alley. Wow.

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In 2017, I’m gonna do my best to get us connected to these fiber lines so that in the future we can offer better internet access to our patrons. I don’t know how this will look, I don’t know how much this will cost, and I don’t know if I’ll fully succeed, but I’m going to try. As far as I know, we’d be the second institution in Titusville to access this connection (the University of Pitt at Titusville is the first) and the first public space to offer high internet speeds. Like I said above, we’ll see, but for now I’m gonna dream big and try out something that’s potentially huge for our community.

PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS

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Yup, these are my kids Aero and Finn at a library program. They come to a lot of them because they have a lot of fun and they enjoy getting to hang out with other kids. That’s what it is all about!

One of the big things that libraries do best these days is to offer educational and fun programs for all ages. In 2016, we’re going to have offered 320 programs that were attended by over 8,000 community members. That’s not bad for a public library that has a service area of around 14,000 people.

2017 is gonna bring a lot more of that and hopefully in larger numbers. I can’t and won’t take my foot off of the gas pedal when it comes to programming in libraries. We have to constantly be offering something to our community members. Programs are unique to libraries and something that we do very well. Story times and after school clubs work best for our younger audience, while nighttime events and musical performances work well for our adult and senior citizen crowd. We plan on having more of those throughout the year.

DO MORE TO ESTABLISH THE LIBRARY AS A COMMUNITY SPACE
One of the best things public libraries have going for their is their space. Most, if not all of us, have amazing buildings in centrally located areas. These buildings are one of our biggest assets. They do some of the simplest things that a library can do: provide space, warmth, comfort, and adventure. I’ve been thinking and speaking about this idea for a few years, and in 2017 I hope to do more to make that idea more cohesive and understandable to everyone out there.

STAY POSITIVE
No matter what we face directly in front of us in 2017, we have to remember that there is love and support all around us. Take a look around at your online social networks, groups like EveryLibrary, and your local community organizations that support the library. Take a moment and look at the community members you serve on a daily basis at your library. All of these groups and all of these people believe in the work that you do. I’m going to do my best to keep that up front in my head and my heart in 2017. I urge you all to do the same.

Library Related Things in the Second Half of 2016

 

I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about library related things in my world recently because…well…when I look at the other stuff being written about libraries out there it hits me that what we’re doing here in Titusville PA may not just be of much interest to people in libraries these days. While other libraries out there are talking about makerspaces, open data, hackathons, social justice, and more, we’re here focusing on the simple things: opening our doors, welcoming the community into our space, and doing what we can do to make life in our little neck of the woods just a bit more enjoyable for everyone.

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We hosted the local Chamber of Commerce event “Home For The Holidays” in our Community Room. It brought community members and local artists and vendors together and hopefully some folks got some neat local holiday gifts for their family and friends.

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We decorated the inside and outside of our space for the holidays. Just a few little decorations can really brighten up the mood and add to the positive spirit that goes around this time of year. It makes me smile.

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It snowed! The steps that we restored over the summer are holding up nicely in the late fall/early winter weather and we do our best to clean them off and take care of them so that our community doesn’t get injured as they come and go from the library.

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We hired Becky Stahl to be our new Youth Services Librarian at the Benson Memorial Library. She’s awesome, a lot of fun, and very kind and I appreciate that. My sons Finn and Aero love her craft and tech programs.

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Guardian Elder Care in Titusville, PA helped us fund our front step renovation project. To celebrate the event, we held an outdoor live music event which was attended by over 20 community members. There was free food! That was awesome.

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My first speaking event of the Fall was for the Pioneer Library System in Canandaigua, NY. What a great library system full of very kind people. I was very impressed by who attended the event…it wasn’t just librarians but there were trustees, Friends of the library, and state legislators in the audience. It was great to share and chat with everyone.

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My final speaking event was in November at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library in New York. What a great library! It reminded me a bit of the Darien Public Library in how the building was laid out, which was extremely customer friendly and welcoming. The staff at the library was so very kind as well, and before and after the event I always felt like I was part of the staff and had worked there for at least 10 years. That’s the best!

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Happy this time of year to everyone out there from the Hoenke Family. We love you all. We’re gonna watch a lot of holiday movies and listen to the same holiday music we listen to every year and just enjoy the hell out of our family and friends. This is the best time of year. Love love love love love.

 

Kindness and Positivity Always Win

This tweet is 100% the truth. How someone couldn’t get excited about taking care of a historic, much loved building and institution in the community is beyond. We work in libraries, and our job is to share and connect with our communities. Life is good.

Work can be tough and stressful at times, but it doesn’t have to be a horrible thing. Projects and programs will take up a lot of our physical and mental energy, but they do not have to destroy us. Reframe those negative thoughts and put them in a positive light. REMEMBER! You are doing great work to help your community. Kindness and compassion win over everything else in this world.

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Our latest project at the Benson Memorial Library involves renovating our historic front steps. It is a big project, but in the end it will be wonderful. It has also been wonderful to work and connect with Fiske Associates Inc. and the Greater Titusville Development Foundation. When we work together and share kindness, we can accomplish great things!

Thank you Eden for such a nice Twitter conversation.

More Library Stuff

I am just going to toss out quotes that are floating around in my brain. Connect them in any way that you will.

  • Libraries count circulations, door counts, and more. These are great numbers but we need to think bigger than this. How can we count hi-fives and hugs from our patrons? A hi-five from a teenager in a library is one of the most important things that can happen in a public library. How do we fix our broken world and help everyone see that there is value in hi-fives and hugs?
  • Some people are good at customer service. Some people are good at using the public library as a canvas for their creative public programs. Recognize these talents in each and every individual and respect these talents. Don’t push people to be everything at once. Let them be themselves.
  • The moments where we relax with each other, chat, and not force work are some of the best moments we can have in a library. Relax. Talk to each other. This is your job, not your life. Sit back, make some tea, and talk.
  • Working in a public library is not about competition. It is about community. We are not here to be Library Journal Library of the Year 5 Star Winner Full Page Cover Spread. We are here to ensure that those that visit us and utilize our services leave with a smile.

Every blog post needs an image and here’s a great image of Prince being the fucking coolest person that ever lived.

ALSO PS: here’s a 14 minute track of all the background music in Purple Rain shhhh it is pretty darn amazing.

KINDNESS

I know there are probably studies out there that help prove that just a little bit of kindness can go a long way and that kindness does in fact have a monetary value. I know that the whole “be nice to everyone and in return kindness will come to you” is a bit of a hippy dippy idea but I still believe in it. And here’s a good example of that in action

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An organization was looking into one of our meeting rooms and inquired about if they’d have to pay to use the space. In the end, it all came down to the idea that they’d have to pay the $20 meeting room fee. I was hesitant to charge them the feed because I always want to do my best to help people out and money can complicate things, but in this case the fee was something we could not avoid. We talked about it and everything moved forward with the $20 fee in place.

This morning I received payment for the meeting room use which (as you can see above) went above the $20 fee that was originally requested. It put quite a smile on my face and in my heart to see this extra donation to the library as well as the kind note that came with it. Yes, I can honestly say that this made my day.

When we have an open communication with others and be positive and kind, good things come in return. Libraries, please keep this in mind as you grow, create policy, and work with your community. We’re in this TOGETHER.

Bhujangasana (for libraries)

I should do more yoga. It makes me happy. My brain feels less full, my body feels great, and it gives me time away from the hectic pace of day to day life so that I can be inside of myself for a moment or two. Bhujangasana (aka the cobra pose) is one of those yoga poses that I think about a lot. I love how this pose makes me feel. It enables me to breathe a lot easier and I feel as if a lot of the baggage in my head and in my heart are able to be let go.

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Bhujangasana in library form, February 2016

Before I accepted my current job at the Benson Memorial Library, my family and I made a trip to check things out one Saturday in April. It was a long trip from Chattanooga TN but it was worth it. It helped me know that those feelings of “yes, I want to take this step in my journey” were actually real.  Upon my arrival, I knew that if I was to accept the position of Executive Director my first task would be to embark upon the task of collection maintenance aka weeding. I don’t like to call it weeding cause that just sounds weird.

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June 2015

The first thing that I noticed when I dove into the collection maintenance project at Benson Memorial Library was just how big and wonderful the collection was. This was a library that had a long and beautiful history. I studied that history, learned about the town, and did my best to wrap my mind around how I could preserve everything that had come before me while at the same time thinking about how to make the library a place that existed long into the future. I thought about this for weeks before actually starting up the physical process. I looked really closely at circulation statistics over the past five years. In those numbers I saw stories and understood how this collection had come to be. It sounds weird, but I had to sort of become best friends with the collection and the circulation numbers. I had to absorb them and in a way they had to possess me and tell me where to go. They did, and shortly after that I began collection maintenance on our nonfiction collection.

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The process was long, tiring, and sometimes extremely difficult. It is often said that the hardest and most rewarding part of working in a public library is working with the public itself. This is very true. I love it but sometimes I feel the need to crawl into a hole and hide away. Collection maintenance in public is a tough thing. There will be questions and comments when the shelves look empty or someone’s favorite section has moved slightly to the left or right. I kept reminding myself to breathe and take this one step at a time. Some days it was easier to breathe than other days. The best advice I can give you is to keep your eyes on the prize. You’ll get there.

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Katoomba NSW Australia

In November 2015 I took a trip to New Zealand and Australia and saw that they too were practicing collection maintenance and giving their collections a chance to breathe. Seeing this in action at another library gave me inspiration and the determination to finish what I had started. As a guest at the Katoomba Library I was able to experience the benefits of having a collection that breathes firsthand. I found myself touching the shelves, thumbing through the collection, and being generally interested in what this library had to offer on its shelves. This was the goal at the Benson Memorial Library; to have a collection where a community member could get lost in the stacks, thumbing their way through a collection that could possibly change their life.

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Expansion of ideas. New stuff. 

I also saw our collection maintenance project as a chance to bring new materials and ideas into the community. Growth and discovery of new things is a healthy part of human life. The public library is there to help the community grow. I am excited to fill our shelves up with new materials and ideas that help Titusville PA grow as a community. The new materials also give us the chance to start up a natural cycle in the collection maintenance project: we analyse our collection, we remove materials that are no longer circulating, and we add new materials that the community will use in the present day. The library becomes extremely relevant to the community in the moment, thus ensuring a healthy future for the organization.

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-fin- (sort of)

In order to thrive long into the future, some aspects of the past have to change. Change is one of the hardest things that we as human beings experience. I think about change constantly and I still have trouble dealing with it. This is OK.

What are my parting words to you? Trust in the idea, trust in the process, trust the library staff, and trust in the future. There are no hidden agendas, no secret messages, and no hard feelings. Work is work and the best work is done with a positive mind, a good heart, and with the community in mind first and foremost. This is why I do the things I do in the public library and I hope you too can read this and adopt that approach.

Open up your heart and breathe.